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Can we attend holiday gatherings safely with our unvaccinated young children?

Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP


​For many families, the holidays are about getting together with relatives and friends. As COVID-19 surges again with new variants, chil​dren younger than 5 years old are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Even though children ages 5-11 years can get vaccinated against COVID, it takes two weeks after the second dose to be fully protected.

Everyone can play a role in protecting those at higher risk of severe illness as we gather together this holiday season. If you'll be celebrating with unvaccinated children and other higher-risk loved ones, keep these tips in mind to help minimize exposure to COVID-19.

Getting together for the holidays safely

Celebrate with fully vaccinated family and friends. Limiting gatherings to fully vaccinated guests is the best way to protect young children who are not yet vaccinated, or individuals who have weakened immune systems. Encourage loved ones who are eligible to get fully vaccinated before gatherings. Encourage everyone 16 and older to get booster shots. For loved ones who are not vaccinated, consider joining by video chat for traditions such as cooking a favorite dish, opening gifts, or sharing words of gratitude before the meal.

Urge guests to stay home if they have symptoms of COVID-19. They should get tested if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have a close contact with someone who has COVID-19. Do not host or attend any in-person festivities if you or anyone in your household has been:

  • diagnosed with COVID-19 and is still at risk of spreading it to others

  • has had any symptoms of COVID-19 within 48 hours of the gathering

  • is waiting for viral test results; or has a known exposure to someone with COVID-19 within the last 14 days

Consider using COVID-19 at-home self-tests before gatherings of families from different households. You can use these tests, available over-the-counter, regardless of vaccination status or whether or not you have symptoms. Self-tests should be done no more than a day before the gathering. Anyone with a positive self-test should avoid get-togethers to reduce the risk of spreading disease to someone else.

For families with vaccinated and unvaccinated members, the safest way to prevent the spread of highly contagious COVID-19 variants is to wear masks at all indoor gatherings with others.

Additional ways to reduce risk:

  • Keep the gathering small and short. Keep your guest list as small as possible and reduce the amount of time you would usually visit.

  • Open windows and celebrate outside when possible. Open windows for better ventilation. If weather permits, gather outdoors.

  • Consider an outdoor treat exchange. Another way to share the holiday spirit is to prepare traditional recipes for family and neighbors. Enjoy the treats outdoors with some hot cocoa or cider.

  • Keep it clean. Remind children to wash hands often, and keep hand sanitizer within reach.

What about holiday shopping?

Wear masks while shopping indoors, especially in areas with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission rates. Avoid bringing children under 2 years old with you during holiday shopping trips, since they are too young to wear masks, or go when stores are not as busy.

Can we travel for the holidays?

Public health experts are still discouraging people who are not fully vaccinated from traveling for holiday gatherings. Families who must travel and have children who are not fully vaccinated should choose the safest travel options for their group.

If your child is too young for the vaccine, you may want to travel by car with members of your household who are vaccinated in a private vehicle, if possible. Wear a mask at gas stations and rest stops. If you must travel by air, be careful around large groups clustered at security lines and concourses, wear masks in airports and on planes, and hang back until lines have thinned.


Stay safe this holiday season and your family will be even more grateful for your traditions in the years to come.

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Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP

Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP serves as the medical editor of and provides oversight and direction for the site in conjunction with the staff editor. Dr. Shu is a practicing pediatrician at Children's Medical Group in Atlanta, Georgia, and she is also a mom. She earned her medical degree at the Medical College of Virginia in ​Richmond and specialized in pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. Her experience includes working in private practice, as well as working in an academic medical center. She served as director of the normal newborn nursery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire. Dr. Shu is also co-author of Food Fights and Heading Home with Your Newborn published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

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The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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